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Accepting violence



In the wake of the Aurora massacre, President Obama and Mitt Romney have offered platitudes, not courage and leadership.

It would be hard to find a more graphic illustration of parental fear than the AP photograph of a father screaming out in anguish as he searched for his son after the Aurora, Colorado, carnage. The horror, for those who were in that theater and for their families and friends, is unimaginable.

We can't prevent all violence. But we can, and ought to, do whatever we can to prevent as much of it as possible. Instead, we have given up – given up even talking about it.

In the face of the polio epidemic, we poured money and human resources into research, kept at it until we defeated it. We continue to try to do the same with cancer, Alzheimer's, AIDS, heart disease.

But we have weakened gun control measures, and weakened them further, and weakened them further.

When he was governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney signed a law banning assault weapons. Now, Romney is a lifetime NRA member who talks about fighting new gun-control laws and defending gun owners' rights.

Campaigning for president four years ago, Barack Obama pushed for a ban on assault weapons. Since then? No action, and no words about any action: not after the tragedy in Tucson that severely wounded Gabby Giffords and killed six people, including a 9-year-old child. And not after the tragedy in Aurora on Friday night.

And in 2009, President Obama signed a bill permitting people to carry concealed weapons in national parks.

The NRA and its supporters have won, and they're not relaxing. Hardly a day goes by that I don't get an e-mail from a right-wing group warning that Obama wants to take away Americans' guns.

Aurora police say that when they arrested the suspect in the parking lot of the movie theater, the weapons and ammunition he had in his possession were legal: a semi-automatic assault rifle, a semi-automatic handgun, a shotgun, and 6000 rounds of ammunition.

"Normal guns," to use the words of a UCLA constitutional-law expert quoted in the Times. And, apparently, a "normal" amount of ammunition.

We'd better start talking about what's "normal" in this country.

We may very well learn that the suspected killer is mentally ill. It's hard to believe otherwise. But only a tiny percentage of people with mental illness set out to kill people. And it's not just the seriously psychotic who are killing people with guns.

Collectively, we have developed a culture of violence. We glorify it. And we glorify guns, gun ownership, and shooting. And we don't plan to change.

"A handful of Democrats are pressing for tougher gun laws in the wake of the Colorado movie theater shootings," The Hill reported on Saturday.

A handful.

From President Obama and Mitt Romney, though, we get platitudes, not courage and leadership. From Romney: "This is a time for each of us to look into our hearts and remember how much we love one another and how much we love and how much we care for our great country. There's so much love and goodness in the heart of America."

From Obama: "And if there's anything to take away from this tragedy it's the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it's not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it's how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another."

Comfort the grieving and hug our children, yes. But we have a responsibility to do much more.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has called for more. "The bottom line," he said on Face the Nation, "is if we had fewer guns, we would have a lot fewer murders."

Apparently, Obama and Romney believe that it's politically impossible to propose stricter gun-control laws.

To quote Lyndon Johnson, when his advisers warned that fighting for civil-rights legislation wouldn't be popular: "Well, what's the presidency for?"

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